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This article surveys evolving and competing medico-legal concepts of pyromania and insane arson. Exploiting evidence from medical jurisprudence, medico-legal publications, medical lexicography and case histories, it seeks to explicate the key positions in contemporary professional debates concerning arson and mental derangement. A major focus is the application of the doctrines of moral and partial insanity, monomania, instinctive insanity and irresistible impulse to understandings of pyromania and insane arson. The limited extent to which mental defect provided a satisfactory diagnosis and exculpatory plea for morbid arson is also explored. Additionally, this article compares and contrasts contemporary debates about other special manias, especially kleptomania. Part 2 will be published in the next issue, History of Psychiatry 21(4). The second part of this paper explores deepening doubts about pyromania as a special insanity, British debates post-1890, and pyromania’s supplanting with the broader diagnostic category of insane incendiarism. It assesses the conceptual importance of revenge and morbid-motivations for arson, and the relationship of Victorian and Edwardian concepts of arson to more modern psychiatric research. The main objective is to ascertain the extent to which Victorian and Edwardian medico-psychologists and medical legists arrived at meaningful and workable definitions of criminal insanity linked to arson. It concludes by emphasizing the limitations, contentiousness and inconsistencies in the use of technical terms such as ‘pyromania’, contrasted with the qualified success of authorities in arriving at more viable and broadly acceptable explanations of insane firesetting.
Author(s): Andrews J
Publication type: Article
Publication status: Published
Journal: History of Psychiatry
Print publication date: 01/09/2010
ISSN (print): 0957-154X
ISSN (electronic): 1740-2360
Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.
Notes: Article published in two parts: part 1 published in volume 21(3), pp.243-260 September 2010 and part 2 published in volume 21(4), pp.387-405 December 2010.
DOI for Part 1: 10.1177/0957154X09349705
DOI for Part 2: 10.1177/0957154X09349706
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